Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '77 - Everett Jones ""

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Underrated '77 - Everett Jones

Everett is an avid movie watcher and user of Letterboxd like myself - follow him there: - I've gotten many good film recs this way.
Death Bed: The Bed That Eats
Like everyone else (possibly including the director), I’ve only heard of, let alone seen, this movie thanks to Patton Oswalt’s very funny stand-up routine. Of course, the whole point of the film’s inclusion is its self-evident awfulness, so it didn’t exactly jump to the top of my to-see list. The thing is, after finally seeing a film that more people have seen a YouTube clip about than ever seen, I actually think it’s...actually not bad? Maybe even good? Keeping in mind a movie in which the main character is a bed doesn’t bear ready comparison to films starring, say, humans, or even talking dogs or cats. Unlike, say, the notorious ‘50s drive-in flicks that proposed giant cucumbers, trees, chickens, and whatnot as terrifying monsters, this is not the straightforward if absurd horror film suggested by Oswalt, as I realized as soon as a painting of fin-de-siecle artist Aubrey Beardsley began narrating the action. Instead, it plays as a more-or-less consciously funny, very stoned, black-comic joke.
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I have a complicated relationship to this movie, probably moreso than anyone should to a little-known late ‘70s Universal programmer. As a kid, thanks to a rave review in the family (non-Maltin) paperback video guide, I was obsessing with seeing it. When my father finally managed to locate a copy, at the local Tower Video off of Rt. 17 in Paramus, New Jersey, my anticipation just made the experience all the more disappointing. Not to mention humiliating, since the first viewing of the surprisingly un-action-packed, slow-paced “action movie” was at my 11th birthday party, surrounded by all my friends. Later on, in high school, I was able to revisit the Goodtimes Home Video release and appreciate it as a low-key but at times effective psychological battle between Timothy Bottoms’s mild-mannered mad bomber and George Segal’s harried, trying-to-quit-smoking safety inspector. Now, though I’d never claim Rollercoaster as a great or even especially good movie, it’s become a bit of a favorite for me, with its Lalo Schifrin score, check-cashing late-career performances by Richard Widmark and a (very briefly onscreen) Henry Fonda (“as Henry Davenport”), and script by the creators of my grandmother’s favorite TV show, “Murder, She Wrote.” Lazily, rather than frenetically paced, it’s a very different kind of summer blockbuster than we’ve become accustomed to, and all the better for it.
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Audrey Rose
He did cut out, behind Orson Welles’s back, the now-lost ending of The Magnificent Ambersons for RKO, but in his own movies Robert Wise brought a, not personal auteurist touch, but nearly impeccable craftsmanship (I write “nearly” because I’ve seen The Hindenberg.) This late-career entry, his last before the massively difficult, successful (and I think underrated) Star Trek: The Motion Picture, comes off like a belated attempt to retrofit The Exorcist with the then-super trendy reincarnation theme. One that doesn’t really work, since eternal life isn’t a horror movie theme, unless an effort is made to convince us that it is. And Audrey Rose doesn’t. But, thanks to Wise and his collaborators (such as DP Victor J. Kemper, composer Michael Small, and production designer Harry Horner) it has a great rainy, moody ambience, along with evocative imagery of a bygone N.Y.C., and one of my favorite performances from the young, quiet, intense Anthony Hopkins, who’s always surprising to encounter these days (see, also, Magic, A Bridge Too Far) now that he’s Odin. Though fundamentally flawed on the substrate level of script, Audrey Rose is nonetheless a highly watchable Carter-era time capsule.
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I’m a little fascinated with the career of the late Dino De Laurentiis, whose productions included a few classics but far more duds and oddities. He seemed intent on becoming a one-man version of what Hollywood is today, churning out fantastical, FX-powered tentpoles pitched to a mass audience, except some combination of flakiness, shiftiness, and ineradicable Italianness kept getting in his way. Orca is the most direct result of Dino’s supposed obsession with topping Jaws, the pop blockbuster he kept trying but never quite managing to make, with the terrible ‘76 remake of King Kong being the most successful and the Charles Bronson Western The White Buffalo the most bizarre. Beside its place in the De Laurentiis canon, Orca might be most significant as an example of a movie never quite living up to its spectacular poster, but considered on its own terms, it’s not a bad film, sturdily directed by the never-brilliant but generally reliable Michael Anderson. The dockside Newfoundland location is atmospheric, and for a rip-off, it benefits from the errant De Laurentiis aim, where nobody seems to have studied the supposed object of imitation closely enough to replicate it very closely. Here, the aquatic predator isn’t a purely malevolent force of destruction, but a misunderstood, mistreated avenging force of nature and family, effectively the protagonist. Meanwhile, the Quint character is the star instead of the sideshow, with Richard Harris in place of Robert Shaw to fulfilling the alcoholic-British-star-requirements. For the female lead, De Laurentiis chose the elegant Charlotte Rampling, as an oceanographer or something--somehow high cheekbones and jade-green eyes don’t seem to belong on the high seas, and her chic incongruity just enhances the bizarreness (between this, The Night Porter, and Zardoz, Rampling has a psychotronic resume for the ages.) And I’ll always insist that no movie co-starring Keenan Wynn can be all bad.
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Padre Padrone
Though it won the 1977 Palme D’Or and was recently released on Blu-ray by the fine folks at Cohen Media Group, I still suspect this film, and its sibling co-directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, are if not underrated than at least seen underseen today. The brothers were critics’ darlings in their time (I’ve also seen their stunning The Night of the Shooting Stars and epic Kaos) but maybe not hip and cosmopolitan enough to be simpatico enough with today’s cinephilia. They adapted this, their breakout success, from the memoirs of a Sardinian-born linguist, who appears on-screen at the start to introduce the story of how he was pulled out of his classroom at age 6 by his father, and put to work for the rest of his childhood and adolescence at the family trade of shepherding. The climax of the story (which isn’t a surprise) is him learning to read and write, and speak standard Italian rather than the dialect of his island. As Pauline Kael wrote in her review, the movie puts any idea of a shepherd’s life being romantic, peaceful, and pastoral violently to rest. The landscape is unpretty and unforgiving, and the father character is relentlessly abusive (in the beginning, the real-life author hands the actor playing his father a large stick.) The movie is harsh but not austere, with the Tavianis finding celluloid equivalents to Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s magical realism to bring the characters’ experiences to life (throughout, we hear the thoughts of people, and even their animals, murmuring on the soundtrack.) Though shot on a low budget, on 16mm for Italian television, the imagery is much richer than in any number of Best Costume or Production Design Oscar winners you’ll have seen.
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